Anyone thinking that the Guinness Premiership would be a bit lacklustre sandwiched in the middle of the Six Nations was proven wrong this weekend with some fantastic rugby being played throughout the country. Some players had points to prove, others had scores to settle and some just looked like they were enjoying their club rugby a lot more than their international efforts.
The weekend began as expected with Sale dominating Leeds from start to finish to record a 29-3 victory at home. Their only disappointment was not finishing off enough of the opportunities created to secure a bonus point. It’s good to see Chris Bell back on the score sheet – the form he was showing last season saw him talked about as a possible England centre.
On Saturday, those lucky enough to be at the Rec will have seen one of the matches of the season between Bath and Wasps. A scintillating solo effort from Andrew Higgins helped Bath to an early lead. Wasps only managed to stay in touch through a Danny Cipriani special – a delicate chip over the first line of defence followed by a burst of pace to re-gather then excellent control to stay on his feet and round the cover to score under the posts.
The second half began with a flurry of points from Wasps – Josh Lewsey and James Haskell providing the power, Dom Waldouck and David Doherty providing the delicate touches. Wasps kept their lead for the rest of the second half and although Bath managed to score a 4-try bonus point of their own they couldn’t get back in touch. Wasps closed out the victory 42-34.
Also on Saturday, Harlequins managed to keep in touch with the play-off hopefuls by beating Worcester 36-15, scoring 5 tries in the process to secure their bonus point. If Leeds manage to win their game in hand they will be only 1 or 2 points behind Worcester and the relegation dog fight could go to the wire. I still think Worcester will pull through.
Sunday saw three underdogs win against the odds, the biggest shock being Bristol beating Gloucester 29-26 at home. Gloucester welcomed their international boys back into the fold with Vainikolo, Balshaw, Narraway and Paterson all starting but it wasn’t enough to overcome the determined Bristol team.
Newcastle sent Saracens packing with a close fought victory over the Londoners, the final score being 16-14. Two of England’s men, Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson were responsible for all the Newcastle points. The play-offs could still involve any team from one to ten in the league and after this weekend’s results it is getting ever more difficult to predict.
The final match of the weekend was another absorbing affair between London Irish and Leicester. Reasoned opinion was that despite London Irish’s impressive home record and Heineken Cup form, Leicester would be too strong for them. However, commanding performances from Kennedy, Geraghty and Hewat coupled with an immaculate kicking display from Eoghan Hickey saw the home team through. Some uncharacteristic misses from Andy Goode denied Leicester even a losing bonus point as Irish won 22-13 which ensured Gloucester stay top of the league.
On the evidence of this weekend, the Premiership is heading for another quality end of season run-in with the top of the table stuttering and the chasing pack finding their form.
By Jon Hobbs